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REVIEW: Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward

June 30th, 2015 by Josh Lanxner

heavensward


When you heard somebody talking about Final Fantasy XIV a few years back, you generally only heard negative things. After all, the first iteration of the game, or 1.0 as it is called nowadays, was a deeply flawed game. So flawed that a new team of developers led by Naoki Yoshida took over and eventually shut it down to be replaced with with A Realm Reborn (2.0), an almost complete rebuild. The game has been extremely successful since then, and with any successful MMORPG, expansions are imminent. Fast forward to now, almost two years since 2.0’s release, and the game’s first one: Heavensward (3.0) is out in the wild. Will this expansion send Final Fantasy XIV’s popularity toward the heavens? Or will it fall back to Earth (or Eorzea)? You’ll just have to click “Read More” to find out…

I’ll be honest, Final Fantasy XIV is my first foray into the MMORPG genre. I had always wanted to play the series’s other MMO title, Final Fantasy XI, but due to my inability to afford subscription fees or a platform to play it on, I never had the chance to. Needless to say, I had no idea what I was really getting into when I got access to 2.0’s beta on PlayStation 3. Since then, I’ve clocked 53 days of play time and I consider myself a pretty reliable Dragoon (I’ll let my raid group confirm or deny that). But anyways, enough rambling. You guys probably want to hear about the game, am I right? So let’s start off with probably the biggest addition to any MMO, the story.


 

S T O R Y

The plot of Heavensward picks up right where patch 2.55 left off. Without spoiling anything (trust me, you want to experience the events that led up to now yourself), your player ends up in the city-state of Ishgard, a land to the north long closed off from the rest of the Eorzean alliance. In typical RPG fashion, your player is immediately thrown into Ishgard’s conflict, after all, you’re the Warrior of Light! The most significant thing going on in Ishgard is the ongoing (and by ongoing I mean a 1000 years) Dragonsong War, pitting the Holy See of Ishgard against the ruthless Dravanian forces. Throughout the 50-60 hour campaign, you will unravel the secrets of the Dragonsong War, with the hopes of finally bringing peace to Ishgard.

Along the way, you’ll cooperate with friends both old and new, with some clever cameos of characters from past Final Fantasy titles thrown into the mix. There’s one in particular that I did not expect at all, and man, did it make my inner fanboy happy. You’ll just have to see for yourself!

Supplementing the plot are dozens (and I mean dozens) of cutscenes. This was a pleasant surprise, after how infrequent they appeared in 2.0. Speaking of 2.0, many of its storylines are also brought forward into this expansion, but they take more of a back seat, popping up herSe'kami Tebias 06_20_2015 17_00_24e and there to give you a short and meaningful distraction from the conflicts in Ishgard. This creates some wonderful pacing to the story, not one place or storyline overstays it’s welcome. I don’t feel quite the same way as it comes to sidequests, but I’ll address that later on in this review. Still, while we’re on the topic of sidequests, there were some that I did enjoy, mainly those that involved secondary characters. The short and sweet storylines associated with them helped to lighten the mood, and occasionally gave me a laugh or two.

Overall, Square Enix has crafted another beautiful story that rightfully belongs among the numerous others bearing the Final Fantasy name. I’m eager to see what they have in store for us for subsequent patches as well, especially in regards to the new character’s they’ve introduced, but for now I’m totally content with what they’ve brought to the table.


 

S O U N D S 

 

So something very confusing happened between patch 2.55 and now, and if you start Heavensward up you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about: the character’s voices are different! Most of the original voice actors from A Realm Reborn have been, for some reason, replaced. Alphinaud for example, one of the game’s main characters, has gone from an effeminate, yet sophisticated tone, to a slightly deeper one. We may find out why this happened in due time, or we may not, but regardless, the cast did an extremely good job in my opinion. Now that I’ve completed the story, I’m actually starting to think I prefer this new voice cast…
The Final Fantasy series has always been known for it’s wonderful soundtracks, and both iterations of XIV shared some amazing tracks, thanks to long time series composer Nobuo Uematsu and Soken. Heavensward is, more or less, no different. Uematsu knocked it out of the park again with 3.0’s main theme, “Dragonsong,” which I recommend you listen to in the video posted above. The composition reminds me of his work back in the days of Final Fantasy IX; it just has an overall nostalgic feel to it, and it truly compliments the story of 3.0 in it’s tone. The rest of the music is just as impressive, with improvisations of the main theme used in some areas to good effect, as well as some completely brand new tracks, implementing instruments such as the bagpipes and jazz piano. It’s truly a treat for your ears, and I commend the sound team on another job well done.


S I G H T S

Eorzea already has so many beautiful sights to behold, such as the Crystal Tower from Mor Dhona and the beaches of Costa del Sol, but they’ve got nothing on what Ishgard and it’s surrounding territories have to offer. JuSe'kami Tebias 06_20_2015 17_12_56st starting off in the city itself, I couldn’t help but drop my jaw on first sight humongous chapels and the sheer amount of details in their architecture. This alone showed me that the developers have really put a lot of time and thought into these new environments, but this observation only became truer and truer once I ventured outside the city… The new areas are just simply massive, and because of that I spent at least half of a day (yes, about 10-12 hours) exploring each area over the course of the story! From the forests and mountains of the Dravanian Forelands, to the expansive ruins of The Churning Mists, and everywhere else in between, there’s so many sights to see from the air and on foot that it’s almost absurd.

The dungeons of Heavensward also sport their own neat looks. You’ll be navigating through an ancient library, jumping between floating islands, and exploring the lairs of great dragons.All of them feel fresh in their design and not once did I say “I feel like I’ve been here before,” except for maybe one of the latter ones, but I’ll let you find out why for yourself.


G A M E P L A Y

 

Now here’s the juicy part, and also the part where there’s by far the most to discuss: gameplay. For a single expansion, Yoshida and his team of packed a ton (and I mean a ton) of content into this package.

To start off, let’s talk about existing jobs. As you see in the video above, many new abilities have been granted to each job (seen in the video above), as the level cap has been raised from 50 to 60! These new abilities do just enough to each class to make the experience of playing them feel fresh, and I personally needed that because, I’m not sure how many more times I had in me doing that same old Dragoon rotation…

Se'kami Tebias 06_29_2015 22_04_01But these new abilities are not the only job-related things granted to us in Heavensward, we also got 3 new jobs to play with: the tank Dark Knight (DRK), the healer Astrologian (AST), and the DPS class Machinist (MCH). While I’ve only had the time to level MCH, I’ve spent much time with other players of the new classes and I’m seeing so many things that I like. MCH uses guns and turrets as their weapons of choice, and play a partial support role to teammates while doing a decent chunk of damage. AST uses a star globe (strange, I know), and use a deck of cards to pass extra buffs and other goodies to teammates. DRK is a unique tank class in that it uses MP-based abilities, and some of them have health draining mechanics, much like other dark knights in the series. Each of them bring something new to the table, and are sure to add more variety to party make-up, once the initial excitement settles down and everyone plays as their preferred jobs.

Anyways, an increase of only 10 levels doesn’t sound like much, but this is resolved by the fact that the experience needed for each level increases at a much faster rate than in 2.0. You jump to level after about 800,000 points, and by the time you reach 60, you’ll have to earn over 3,000,000! At times it did feel like it was a little too much of a grind from one level to the next, but the development team has had a pretty good knack for making your level go right along with the main story quests (provided you do sidequests as well).

And now here’s where I’ll discuss my issues with sidequests. Like I said before, there are some I genuinely did enjoy, but the experience gain is so low, and there’s so many of them, that I felt like I was just doing busy work to get by once I got to the 2nd or 3rd area. Don’t let me forget to mention that some of them have NPCs at the border of one area, that sends you over into that next area continuously, which means you’re met with loading screens twice for a sidequest chain you can only take one at a time of. For the most part, sidequests just feel like meaningless bloating of the main story quest to make the game feel longer, but it just doesn’t feel fun at all.

Se'kami Tebias 06_27_2015 09_17_56Back on the topic of dungeons, there’s (currently) 8 of them, and they all sport new and fun mechanics, some being reimplemented from 2.0’s raid content, the Binding Coil of Bahamut. Some do test your patience though (I’m looking at you, tornadoes), but that’s more from the lack of being able to predict some mechanics, which I do feel is a good thing for a game where almost every trial and dungeon has a cut and paste guide after a week. Speaking of trials, we have two new primals for your player to slay. Ravana is the deity of the insect-like Gnath race in the Dravanian Forelands, and Bismarck the massive flying god of the Vanu in the Sea of Clouds. Ravana requires a ton of full-team coordination to dodge his lethal onslaught of attacks, and Bismarck is more a test of how much damage you can do in the small windows you have provided to do so. Both were a blast to play, and there’s a true feeling of success when you slay one of them and see how well your strategies have worked.

FATEs, or the little semi-instanced quests spotted around Eorzea, make their return in Heavensward, but there’s one problem: nobody does them. The experience gains and rewards are so low for the time it takes to complete them, that you’re better off running dungeons to reach level cap once you complete the story. I’m hoping they’ll fix this in some upcoming patches, because all those 0% completions on the map really do say something.

Crafting has also gotten its fair share of new content with Heavensward, the biggest being the Free Company workshop. Located beneath your FC’s house, your best crafters can put together materials to create new exteriors for your house, and components to create your own airship! Now I admit I was a little disappointed to find out that you can’t actually take these airships out and fly them, but they’re neat nonetheless. They function, more or less, as a retainer for the entire FC. You send them out on voyages, which take upwards of a day, and upon return they gain experience points and you get items that you can use to further improve your ship. A neat concept, but I’m just hoping they flesh it out a bit more in the future.

Now for this  next gameplay mechanic, I’ve decided to split it into it’s own section, because there’s just that much to say about…


F L Y I N G

Yes, with Heavensward they added the ability to fly, allowing you to use new mounts such as the Griffin or your chocobo to explore all the new areas in the 3rd dimension! It’s kind of disappointing that they only allowed this for the areas added in 3.0, but it makes sense, as all of the old terrain is much smaller, and not meant to be traversed from above.

Now how do you gain the ability to fly you ask? Well it iSe'kami Tebias 06_25_2015 21_19_16sn’t given to you from the get-go, you have to do a handful of things before you can jump on your winged companion and take for the skies. First you have to complete most of the main story quest for that said area, as well as a few specific sidequests. Why is that? Well, after these quests, you’re awarded with aether currents, anessence that allows to “attune to the winds of the terrain,” and subsequently gives you your wings But, if you’re just doing these quests you still won’t have enough currents; you also have to search the grounds of the area for physical currents. This, in my opinion, was a very neat idea, as you are rewarded for your exploration efforts with flight. Although, since sidequests are so numerous, and many NPCs have multiple ones, you have to almost play a guessing game to figure out which chain of quests you’ll get an aether current from. Another complaint about the sidequests, I know, but I just feel like their implementation in 3.0 was going in a complete opposite direction from most of the other elements of the expansion.

With flight, exploration is encouraged (and rewarded) even more, as you have access to a brand new Sightseeing Log. Much like the Log in 2.0, it has you travel to unique landmarks scattered around each area and use the /lookout emote to receive a chunk of experience points. But what makes this log superior is the fact that you no longer have to wait for specific weather patterns, or certain times of day, you only need to find that location and there you go. It’s very entertaining when you want to take a break from your normal adventures.


T H E   V E R D I C T 

Se'kami Tebias 06_28_2015 18_49_21

Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward is no slouch of an expansion. Between the lengthy and action-packed campaign, new lands and dungeons to explore, jobs to try out, and flight, you’ll be left engrossed for weeks (maybe even months). I know I’ll be sticking around for a long time! Sidequests can be a little bit tedious, and I don’t think the new crafting draw-in is as appealing as it was made to seem, but nonetheless, Heavensward is a beautiful first expansion to an already wonderful game, and this is why I’m giving it a solid 9/10. I cannot wait see what the imminent 3.x patches bring to the table, especially with the upcoming Alexander raid content. The skies are truly the limit for this game.

9/10

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  • Vashta

    The leveling 50-60 is horrible. The flying system ruins what little of a feel of a world this game had (the world has been poorly designed since 2.0, 1.0 had way better world design). Some Jobs new abilities are bloat that just take up space but are still mandatory to keep on the bar (Like the two Dragoon attacks that do the same damage but proc between each other). The new Jobs are neat but are so underpowered that people are switching to other Jobs after leveling them because they are not viable for end game content, with MCH being the worst because it’s bland and bad. They made BRD a caster, and MCH turns into a caster too. The story takes back a lot of the events and deaths of the 2.5 story leading up to HS with idiotic excuses as to why these characters are now alive and why things have gone back to normal.

    I’m very disappointed in this xpac.This honestly deserves a 6 or 7 out of 10. 9 is way too much.